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Monday, May 01, 2006

Churn, lock-in and portability

I'm trying to work out how stupid the "average" mobile consumer is. Just how much attempted "lock-in" can operators get away with, before their customers realise they're being trapped?

Let me think about other areas of business:

- I'm a loyal customer of my bank. I know I could change to another one, and that there are some fairly standardised ways of moving accounts, complete with standing orders etc, but I can't be bothered particularly.
- I haven't switched credit cards for some time, although this is on my "to do" list, when I get a chance, as I'm unconvinced by the customer service I get on some of them. I know it's not a big deal to switch.
- I may well change my broadband provider at some point, either if I move house, or if I decide to get a faster 8/24-MB connection. Sensibly, I don't use my ISP email address for most things.
- I use Yahoo! mail. It would be a real pain to change it, although it's free, so unless they shut it down, I don't mind the lock-in. (In fact, I pay for Yahoo!'s Mail Plus service). My only concern is that I can't download an email archive to create my own backups.
- I use Yahoo!'s calendar & some of its contact services - but I can download/sync these with Outlook, so I'm not locked-in
- I don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV
- I get my car serviced at the same place I bought it, even though it's an hour-and-a-half drive away. I don't need to - I just like & trust the people there, and they've got a discounted servicing scheme for loyal customers. I've bought 4 cars from the same place over the last 11 years.

Now, looking at mobile:

- I can port my O2 number to another operator any time I want, with minimal interruption or hassle. (I ported the number to them in the first place) I've been a customer for several years, don't use a subsidised phone, so I have no contractual obligations tying me to them. I may well churn at some point, as my voice tariff is too high. Alternatively, I may give them a chance to "lock me in" for another 12 months, if they give me a much lower price and a nice new subsidised phone.
- I am locked in to my business mobile contract with T-Mobile for 18 months. However, this was a considered decision, as the firm subsidised an expensive device down to free. In fact, the monthly tariff was such a good deal, it was almost just an 18-month zero-interest finance deal on buying the handset.
- No way would I ever entrust my music collection to an operator. Churn for good reasons (poor coverage, lousy data services, whatever) and lose my "owned" content? Yeah, right.
- Similarly, I wouldn't accept any other added-value service which locks me in, when I know from past experience I may want to shift operators for other access-related reasons. Branded IM? Operator email? Only if there's "IM portability" "content portability" and "email portability" laws.
- Handset / SIM as credit card or banking relationship? You must be joking.

I can see a huge upswing of consumer dissatisfaction over the next few years.

"You're moving house to another area, and want to shift your network-based contacts list to a different carrier? Sorry."

"You're emigrating to another country & want to keep your music? Hahahahaha"

"No, we won't forward email after your contract lapses"

Bottom line - operators should brand these type of services differently, and be prepared to both port then and offer them to other people who don't buy their access services. Unless all their customers are stupid, of course.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"You're emigrating to another country & want to keep your music? Hahahahaha"

With iTunes, that's already true!